Harrison Brown was special.
A runner and an actor. A teenager who played at least three instruments, worked a job and came to the University of Texas with enough class credits to start as a sophomore. A man so admired, he not only won 2016 class favorite his senior year, but the entire high school named him the most popular kid on campus.
The slaying of the 19-year-old in Monday’s on-campus knife attack left the tiny North Texas town of Graham and UT in shock.
“If you were to draw out an all-American kid, other than being the football player in Texas high school, he was the all-American kid,” said Joe Gordy, principal of Graham High School. Gordy had known Brown and his family since Brown was a small child in church. “He cut across all those stereotypes and personalities and was able to embrace everyone and was loved by everyone because of his earnest personality.”
Earnest — and charming, Gordy said: “He was one of those guys who could sell you sand in the Sahara Desert, just with that charming personality.”
In a town of about 9,000 people, located 90 minutes from Fort Worth, Brown stood out.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the last 24 hours about him, and everyone talked about how he was everyone’s friend,” said Graham Mayor Jack Graham, whose ancestors founded the municipality. “It’s just an absolute tragedy. He will be sorely missed.”
Authorities charged Kendrex White, a fellow UT student, with Brown’s murder on Tuesday and disclosed that mental illness might have played a role in the attack, which left three other students seriously injured. White, police revealed, had been recently committed involuntarily to a mental health facility.
In the aftermath of Monday’s attack, the Graham and UT communities mourned Brown in their own ways.
The high school canceled the standardized state tests scheduled for Tuesday. Students wore orange to honor Brown, and counselors helped them process the death. A candlelight vigil was planned for Tuesday night.
Cheryl Williams, a floral designer in Graham, said she ordered 100 white roses for students to place in the middle of Graham High School’s football field during the ceremony. Students and community members were also signing a white satin ribbon for the family, which Williams planned to put in a memory box for them. “When something comes up like this, everybody pulls together,” Williams said. “Everybody becomes one.”
In Austin, the University Catholic Center was holding a memorial Mass at 8 p.m. Tuesday at 2010 University Ave. And UT is planning a larger memorial for Brown, which will include dimming its iconic Tower in his honor.
In remarks Tuesday, UT President Gregory L. Fenves said he had spoken with Brown’s mother. Lori Brown told him that her son loved being a Longhorn — and that he, like so many first-year students, was “trying to decide what path he wanted to follow in his own life.”
Brown, Fenves said, had narrowed the choice down to pursuing a liberal arts degree — perhaps in economics — or following his heart and studying music. “His family and our community will never be able to hear Harrison play and sing again and, for this, our hearts are breaking and we are deeply, deeply saddened,” Fenves said.
The outpouring of support also led to an outpouring of cash. Friends and strangers donated more than $88,000 as of Tuesday evening to a fraternity-organized GoFundMe page for Brown’s family, even though Brown never actually joined a fraternity.
He opted to withdraw from Phi Delta Theta after pledging, said Colton Becker, a junior and the communications director for UT’s circle of Greek organizations. Never one to shy away from making friends, Brown remained close to the brothers, who have raised money for ALS fundraisers. Brown’s father has ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
“He was so supportive of his father,” said Becker, who is helping to organize the fundraising effort. “He was so family-oriented. He had a knack for caring for others and showing a true regard for them.”
The money, he added, will go to Brown’s family to use at their discretion.
Brown’s Facebook page and Twitter feed offer lingering glimpses into his life.
“I’m in love with this campus and the people,” Brown tweeted in August.
He made no secret of his “Hook ’em” pride on Twitter, where he constantly posted about his love of the school and shared in the citywide exasperation with the Longhorn’s persistent habit of creatively losing football games.
There were posts about the frustrations of any first-year student: boring classes, a retweeted joke about essays that won’t write themselves, an attempt to surprise his girlfriend with new Ray-Bans only to discover she got her broken pair fixed.
The posts, images and clips he left behind reveal an artistic, loving person who friends and neighbors say cared for everyone and regularly returned home to help care for his ailing father.
“When he was 3 and 4, he’d show up in his tie and vest to church,” Gordy said. “He was always a sharp dresser, he liked to look nice and put his shades on, but he was the most sincere, honest kid at the same time.”
Snapshots show him hugging his parents, running track, standing with his high school’s cross-country team and hanging out with fellow theater kids.
There are the posts that showcase his love of music: tweets about great acts, the short clips of him playing instruments — guitar, piano and trumpet — and covering songs. In one, Brown plays Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. An image from a silent fundraiser shows him with a guitar.
Becker, the Interfraternity Council spokesman, posted a link on his Facebook page Monday night of Brown playing guitar and singing “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain. By Tuesday afternoon, that video had been seen more than 350,000 times.
Brown played the trumpet in his high school band, Gordy said. “The impact he had on our school and in our district was just phenomenal,” Gordy said. “Kids like that just don’t come around very often.”
He added: “He was a remarkable young man.”